World’s largest expat survey: crunch hits expats hard

25th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

HSBC survey reveals expat spending has dropped across the globe but more expats in UK and US are considering move home.

HSBC Expat on Wednesday announced the results of the world’s largest survey of expats, Expat Explorer, revealing the significant impact that the current economic crisis has had on expats’ finances.
The first instalment of this year’s survey, Expat Economics, showed that expats have reduced spending across the board, with the UK and US identified as having the greatest number of expats considering a move home.
Expat Explorer, now in its second year, surveyed over 3,100 expats from more than 50 countries and is the largest survey of its kind, with 46 percent more respondents than last year. Expat Economics is the first of three reports on the results and is a new addition to this year’s survey which looks at expats’ economic quality of life.
Paul Say, HSBC's Head of Marketing and Communications, noted that this year’s survey offered interesting insights into a dynamic segment of the world’s population, and also stands as a key indicator into how expats had been affected by global economic events.
“Last year’s survey gave us some really valuable insights into such a fascinating group of people and we are pleased to see even more expats participating in this year’s survey,” said Say.

“As the world continues to undergo a significant economic shift, we are seeing some interesting patterns amongst the expat population, particularly in the changes to their spending habits.  Despite expats in the UK and US considering a move home, we also found that the majority of expats are staying put despite growing employment uncertainty across many regions.”
Key findings

  • US, Thailand and South Africa most affected expat locations.
  • Almost half of expats in UK considering returning home.
  • Emerging markets rank above established centres for expat finances.
  • UK worst for saving behind Spain and France.
  • Despite economic crisis, expats are wealthier and save more than in country of origin.

The crunch and its effect on expats

The US, Thailand and South Africa have been most affected by the credit crunch, reducing their spending on essential and luxury items, general household maintenance and the money allocated to savings and investments.  The largest reduction in essential day-to-day items was seen in Spain, where almost two thirds (81 percent) of expats have cut back.  Almost four fifths of expats in the US (79 percent) and three quarters in the UK (75 percent) have scaled down their spending on essential day-to-day items.
Almost half (44 percent—the highest value of this figure in the survey’s history) of expats in the UK and close to a quarter (23 percent) of expats in the US are considering returning home in light of the current financial crisis.  This is a stark contrast to the global average of only 15 percent of expats considering a move home.
Emerging markets best for expats’ finances
This year's survey ranks 26 countries (compared with 12 last year), with Russia (in first place) scoring highly as a result of the number of expats saving more, high annual salaries and the amount of disposable income available.  Qatar (second place) and Saudi Arabia (third) also scored highly for increased savings and disposable income but had lower annual salaries.  Interestingly, two thirds of expats in Qatar (63 percent) said that their attitude to spending had not changed as a result of the economic crisis.
By region, Switzerland and the UK ranked first and second in Europe, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia leading the way in the Middle East, Russia and Hong Kong in Asia--Pacific, and Mexico and the United States in the Americas.
An increase in saving
Many expats have taken advantage of their current location to increase the amount of money allocated to savings.  Expats in the Middle East are strong savers, with the United Arab Emirates ranking fifth (after Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar and India) as a country where expat saving is increasing.  The UAE and India were also top countries to save in the 2008 Expat Explorer report.
Expats in the UK were the worst savers/investors globally, with over a quarter of expats living in the UK (27 percent—the highest recorded in the survey) saying that they had reduced their savings and investments compared to in their home country.
Savings accounts are the most popular way to save for expats across virtually all markets, with the exceptions of Mexico, Malaysia, Japan and South Africa.
Where are the wealthiest expats?

Asia is home to the highest paid expats in the world, with one in four expats (25 percent) earning more than USD 200,000 a year.  By country, the survey identified Russia, Japan and Qatar as home to the wealthiest expats, where ‘wealthy’ is defined as having an annual income in excess of USD 200,000 and a monthly disposable income in excess of USD 3,000.  Over one third (43 percent) of expats surveyed in Russia, 40 percent in Japan and 22 percent in Qatar answered that their annual income was over this USD 200,000 threshold.
Belgium and Australia are home to the least wealthy expats, with almost two thirds (61 percent) of expats in Belgium and 63 percent of expats in Australia stating that their annual salary was USD 100,000 or less.  This compares to an average figure of 35 percent across all expats surveyed.
More disposable income and an increase in costs
Almost three quarters (74 percent) of expats surveyed said they have more disposable income than they did living in their country of origin, except those living in France (47 percent) and the UK (47 percent).  Almost all expats in Qatar (94 percent), Russia (97 percent) and Saudi Arabia (98 percent) have more disposable income than they did living in their home country.  More expats in these countries also have more than USD 4,000 (70, 59 and 52 percent, respectively) of disposable income each month, compared to the survey average of 36 percent.
Food and accommodation has seen the largest increase in spending for expats, a continuing theme from the 2008 Expat Explorer report.  Expats in the UK spend more of their income on accommodation than anywhere else in the world, with almost two thirds (86 percent) ranking it as their greatest expenditure, a continuing trend from the 2008 report.
“As with our 2008 survey, we are generally seeing that although expats are spending more in their new countries of residence, they are also saving more,” commented Say.
“There is no doubt that we have seen some interesting trends in terms of how expats are reacting to the credit crunch but what is also interesting to see is that they remain to be a wealthy group of individuals.  Over half of the expats surveyed are actually earning USD 100,000 and over—no mean feat particularly in the current climate.”
The next instalment in the Expat Explorer series, Expat Existence, will be released this August and will focus around expats’ quality of life.
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